Sep 072014
 
apple-iPhone5s-5Up_Features_iOS8_PRINT

Unsurprisingly the hype ahead of Tuesday’s media announcement by Apple is reaching a crescendo, with the consensus being that a smart watch will be the day’s main announcement.

The constant stream of targeted leaks by Apple to friendly outlets is quite tiring, however one thing that will be fascinating if all the stories are true is the software the device will run.

As Microsoft have discovered, the idea of running the same operating system across all devices just doesn’t work.

While how users interact with the devices will be the main factor, the most immediate problem will be power. If Apple Insider’s report that prototypes need to be recharged twice a day is true, then the limitations of smaller batteries are going to be considerable and software is going to have to be much more stingy with power usage.

The other big challenge for the iWatch, if that’s what it’s called, is the entire global watch market is a tiny fraction of the smartphone industry so expectations Apple’s new product will replace smartphones and tablets as a huge growth driver for the company are probably misguided.

So it’s good for Apple and its acolytes that the iPhone6 will probably be announced as well. If this has the features expected, then its likely to give the company’s slowing smartphone sales a boost.

Regardless of what’s announced on Wednesday, Apple does have the luxury of being one of the most profitable and richest companies on the planet. if a smartwatch is the major new product they have the resources and time to finesse the product and its software.

 

Aug 242014
 
Webvan-home-delivery

At the peak of the dotcom mania in 1998 delivery services were all the go, those days are back reports Claire Cain Miller in the New York Times.

“We’re really well funded, so that is not something we’re as worried about,” Aditya Shah, Instacart’s general manager says. “Growth is the most important factor.”

This is the classic Silicon Valley Greater Fool model, where the aim is to get as many customers as possible to make the business attractive to a cashed up large corporation.

It might work, but the odds of being an Amazon or Salesforce – both companies have barely made a profit in the decade and a half they’ve been running – is unlikely.

One of the big problems is that delivery doesn’t scale, the ‘last mile’ problem of getting the goods to the customer remains the most complex and expensive part of the process.

Drones may solve the labour cost problem and sophisticated algorithms from companies like Uber may make the process more efficient but it’s unlikely an ad-hoc delivery service can ever scale to the degree these entrepreneurs project, unlike the post office and courier services where the system is built around predictable delivery routines.

Uber is the company that validated the model of today’s delivery startups, as Miller mentions;

“Meanwhile, venture capitalists joke that every other entrepreneur they meet pitches an “Uber for X,” bringing goods and services on demand: laundry (Washio), ice cream (Ice Cream Life), marijuana (Eaze) and so on.”

It’s hard to see how the current craze of delivery startups will end any better than the Webvans and dozens of other services that soared and crashed in the late 1990s, however business models are changing and it may be one of these will find the formula that works in the new economy.

Aug 182014
 
despair

That the Internet of Things is posed to fall into the depths of the trough of disillusionment according to Gartner’s latest Hype Cycle should come as no surprise to those following the industry.

For the industry, such a fall might not be a bad thing. During the upswing to the Peak of Heightened Expectations technologies attract the hot, dumb money along with the motley collection of shysters and opportunists a gold rush always lured in by the prospect of easy returns.

When a product, technology or industry falls into what Gartner calls the trough of disillusionment it’s usually the time when its real value is discovered. Without the distractions of hype or dumb money distorting the market, the industry finds a way of using a product that’s become somewhat passe.

For the Internet of Things, it won’t be a bad thing if the sector tumbles into the abyss. The sooner it happens, the faster industry will figure out where the real value and benefits lie.

The only damage might be to some of the more prominent boosters’ egos and the hip pockets of some of the more over eager investors.

Jul 172014
 
edison-electrocutes-topsy-the-elephant

A constant theme when new technologies appear is the inevitable war about standards that often sees bitter arguments over how the new methods should be used.

Over the centuries we’ve seen fights over railway gauges, video tape formats and even the shape of lighting conductors.

The struggle over lightning rods between the English and French camps in the eighteenth century was parodied by Jonathan Swift in Gulliver’s Travels where the two tribes fought over which end of a boiled egg should be broken.

Probably the nastiest dispute in modern times was the battle over DC and AC electricity transmission between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse, a fight made worse by Edison’s former employee Nikola Tesla taking his patents over to Westinghouse.

The fight became so fierce that Edison actually electrocuted an elephant to illustrate how dangerous AC electricity would be to householders.


Tesla and Westinghouse eventually won the argument, but it came at a cost to Topsy the Elephant.

While we may draw the line at electrocuting elephants in these enlightened days, we aren’t much better at settling standards. That’s why it’s fascinating watching how technologies like the smart car and the connected home will evolve.

Jul 082014
 
Digital Day for Small Business September 2011showing how to use cloud computing and social media to grow your business

“My job is to spread good news,” says Guy Kawasaki of his role as Canva’s Chief Evangelist.

Kawasaki was speaking to Decoding the New Economy about his role in popularising the online design tool which he sees as democratising force in the same way that Apple was to computers and Google to search.

Democratisation is a theme consistently raised by startups and businesses disrupting existing industries and Kawasaki continues this theme.

“The world is becoming a meritocracy; it’s not about your pedigree, it’s about your competence,” states Kawasaki.

Falling barriers to entry

What excites Kawasaki about the present business climate are the falling barriers to starting a venture. “Things are getting cheaper and cheaper, in technology you had to buy a room full of servers, have IT staff in multiple cities. Today you call Amazon or Rackspace and host it in the sky.”

“Before you had to buy advertising for a concert, now if you’re adept at using social media – with Google Plus, Facebook,Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram – you have a marketing platform that fast, ubiquitous and cheap.”

“What excites me is there are going to be more technologies, more products and more services because the barriers are so low.”

Creating a valued and viable product

For those businesses starting into this new environment, Kawasaki believes the most important thing a startup should focus on is getting a prototype to market; “at that point you will know you’re truly onto something.”

“If you build a prototype that works you may never have to write a business plan,” says Kawasaki. “You’d never have to make a Powerpoint, you may never have to raise money as you could probably bootstrap.”

Kawasaki view is the MVP – Minimum Viable Product – model of lean product development should have another two ‘V’s added for ‘Valuable’ and “Validated’.

“You can create a product that’s viable, ie you could make money, but is it valuable in that it changes the world?”

“Is your first product going to validate your vision? If it’s not then why are doing it?”

The story Kawasaki tells is the tools to deliver valued and viable products are more accessible than ever before; that’s good news for entrepreneurs and consumers but bad for stodgy incumbents.

Jul 042014
 
Customers moving online presents challenges to hotels, cafes and restaurants.

Reservation Hop is a good example of many of the current breed of parasitic startups that want to create a new class of middleman.

The hospitality industry is tough work and something guaranteed to irritate restauranteurs are reservations that don’t show up.

One startup that seems almost certain to attract the ire of the restaurant industry is Reservation Hop – “We make reservations at the hottest restaurants in advance so you don’t have to.”

Reservation Hop makes table reservations at popular restaurants and then sells them through their website.

We book up restaurant reservations in advance. We only book prime-time restaurant reservations at the hottest local establishments, and we mostly list high-demand restaurants that are booked up on other platforms.

This is probably one of the worst examples of the middleman culture that dominates much of the current startup thinking.

Almost certainly there’s a market need for proxy queue jumpers – although one wonders how profitable it is when the transaction fees are under $10 – but this service will deeply irritate restaurant owners and diners who are crowded out by these ‘parasite’ services.

In many ways, Reservation Hop illustrates the problems with this phase of our current startup mania; the rise opportunistic businesses that are more akin to parasites than services that add value.

The Reservation Hop website assures patrons that there’s a 99% chance their booking will be honored by the restaurant on the night, we can expect establishments to start messing with that statistic as they wise up to the business.

Many in the startup sector speak about how new technology improves the world, services like Reservation hop illustrate that not every idea is a step forward.

Jun 282014
 
newspapers are dying as the media business models move online

You know a product has problems when retailers start start moving it out of key retail positions. When the product was the retailers’ core business, you know the entire industry is in serious trouble.

Mark Fletcher describes in the Newsagency Blog how he’s moved his city’s number two selling paper off the main level of his newspaper display.

“Sales are not paying for the space,” Mark says bluntly.

Newsagents relegating newspaper fits nicely into Ross Dawson’s Newspaper Extinction Timeline, in the case of Mark Fletcher’s newsagency Dawson sees the Australian newspaper industry vanishing by 2022.

For newsagents the signals have been clear for some time that they have to adapt to a society where paper based products – newspapers, stationery and greeting cards – aren’t in demand.

The process of adapting isn’t easy or smooth – many experiments will fail and even the smartest business people will make expensive mistakes. That’s the nature of evolution.

Newsagents though are just one example of changing marketplaces, there’s few industries that aren’t being disrupted by the technology and economic changes of our times. All of us are going to have to adapt to a rapidly changing world.